Thursday, July 28, 2011

Another Victory in the War Against Macros

wxWidgets is notorious for using many macros. While evils of macros in C++ are well-known, sometimes they are really necessary, e.g. wxIMPLEMENT_APP hides the difference between using main() or WinMain() as entry point and sometimes, even if there are alternative approaches not involving macros, e.g. using a base class instead of wxDECLARE_NO_COPY_CLASS macro, their use is still not particularly offending. In still other cases macros are used to provide a kind of a DSL, such as event table macros that allow to describe event handler connections statically and less flexibly but more concisely than Connect().

However in some cases there is really nothing that can be said in defense of
using the macros and they are present in the code just for "historical
reasons", i.e. because nobody thought about doing it better back when the code was first written, often enough almost 20 years ago. We try to deprecate (which is a polite term for "get rid of") such macros progressively and there are not that many of them left, at least on the interface side.

A couple of days ago I finally managed to ditch a particularly aggravating set of them: the so-called "control container" macros. They must be used in the classes that represent windows containing other windows ("controls") in order to allow TAB navigation inside them. While wxPanel and wxDialog, which are two of the usual control containers, already do it, you had to explicitly use macros such as WX_DECLARE_CONTROL_CONTAINER() and WX_DELEGATE_TO_CONTROL_CONTAINER() if you wanted to write your own composite controls. Luckily few people did this because these macros were not even documented but even just using them in wxWidgets itself causes much teeth gnashing. And particularly so from my part, almost surely because I wrote these macros myself (and only 10 years ago so even the "explanation for using macros here is forever lost in the mists of time" excuse is at most half-valid).

So when I had to add correct keyboard navigation to wxSearchCtrl to fix another bug, I finally decided to atone for my mistake. The solution turned out to be surprisingly simple and nice: instead of all these macros I added a new wxNavigationEnabled class which uses CRTP to inject the TAB-handling logic into the derived class. So, as the example in the documentation shows, you now simply have to inherit your custom composite control from wxNavigationEnabled<wxWindow> instead of directly deriving from wxWindow to get correct keyboard handling, e.g.:
class MyCompositeControl : wxNavigationEnabled {
...
};


Using wxNavigationEnabled is definitely much simpler than using macros -- in fact, it's so simple that it could even finally be documented quite painlessly, which is a good criteria -- so I'm quite happy with it (as you can see, even happy enough to write a blog post about this). Even though not having to do anything at all and have TAB-navigation just work would certainly be even better, this can't be done without moving all the TAB navigation logic down into wxWindow itself and there are many, many windows which don't contain any other controls this doesn't look like a good idea.

Anyhow, this battle against macros was won but the war is not over yet. Getting rid of (or at least providing non preprocessor-based alternatives to) all macros in wxWidgets is not the highest priority issue but it's still nice to make some progress on it. And if you have any candidates for irritating macros to be dealt with next, please let us know!
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